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A look at pet therapy in care homes

In this article we look into how pets can have positive benefits to those living in care or isolated care environments.

Dogs, cats, horses and many other animals have long been companions to people of all ages, a friendly face and someone to talk to through good and bad times. As we grow older, some people become reliant on their cats and dogs to provide them with a comfort blanket they wouldn’t otherwise have. In this article, we discuss how pet therapy can totally transform the lives of those living in care homes across the country.

“While our organisation does not do as much work in care homes now, the idea for Canine Therapy Corps originated from our founder taking her dog, Chenny, to visit her mother in a care home. She noticed that when Chenny was present, the residents were more active than usual. Some wanted to take the dog for a walk, while others were interested in doing tricks or petting her. Even the residents who didn’t like dogs were at least getting up to complain! Our founder saw a real opportunity to use dogs to help people change their behaviours, which launched our work in goal-directed therapy for individuals recovering from a variety of trauma.” Says Ann from Canine Therapy Corps.

Combat Loneliness

As soon as an elderly relative is moved into care, although surrounded by lots of other faces they can feel lonely and isolated, especially if they are used to the company of their life-long pet.

The introduction of pet therapy in homes across the country has seen dramatic effects with the majority of participants reacting well to the therapy. The decrease in loneliness and isolation has shown real positive effects.

Boost Activity Levels

Introducing pets can have real benefits on those who wouldn’t otherwise get a lot of exercise. Allowing patients to walk around with the dogs, cuddle them and help feed and groom them. All of these small activities can reduce swelling, increase blood circulation and improve strength.

Nursebuff recently commented on pet therapy on their website: “Pets need to be fed, walked, and played with. These things can help elders be more active. They can be used to supplement their existing exercise programs. Brushing and petting animals can also improve their mobility.”

Reduce Stress and Depression

The calming nature of a pet has seen to increase levels of Oxytocin the stress-reducing hormone, also decreasing the production of cortisol, a producer of stress.

These positive health effects don’t stop at stress-relief, it is also believed that pet therapy can have a drastic effect on blood pressure. Not just bringing a calming effect but reducing the mental-stress some elders feel when they’re alone.

Elisabeth from Pet Partners tells us about the positive effects pet therapy can have on lives of elders living in care: “Therapy animals offer affection, enjoyment, and entertainment, and can break up a routine that might otherwise be all about medical care and required activities. They can give residents the motivation to participate in activities, exercise, and treatment plans. They can ease loneliness for people who are missing their homes or their own pets and increase socializing among residents by giving them a reason to gather. Interaction with therapy animals has been shown to reduce blood pressure and improve perceptions of pain, stress levels, and mood. And research suggests that therapy animals can increase social behaviour and decrease agitated behaviour in people with dementia.”

“Pet therapy is basically a guided interaction between a trained animal and a person. The aim of pet therapy is to help minimize anxiety, stress, and depression. It can also offer a boost in self-confidence and improve one’s social skills.” Says Pet Therapy.

Unlocking Memories

As well as bringing back happy memories of previous pets, pet therapy can have positive effects on unlocking memories in Dementia and Alzheimer patients. has reported: “While companionship is an obvious benefit, a well-timed pet visit may also help with anxiety and depression. It’s not uncommon to watch someone transition from emotionless to joyful when a pet enters the room, especially if it triggers pleasant memories.”

The Bridges at Warwick also reports: “Many seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia can begin to feel depressed as time goes by as a result of not being able to communicate how they would like to and not being able to do things on their own as much. While pet and animal therapy doesn’t exactly “cure” emotions, it can significantly improve mindset and distract from negative feelings”

Social Involvement

Pets and animals make seniors feel loved and accepted no matter their age, abilities or illness, something that not all humans can provide. They can be a listening ear or someone to confide in when they become lonely or isolated.

“Many people find benefits in interacting with pets, from the pleasure of touching their fur to the enjoyment of an animal’s in-the-moment presence, to the unconditional, non-judgmental love pets can offer. All these aspects can have a particularly meaningful effect for people who are in residential care, separated from their homes and loved ones and dealing with significant medical issues. This can be a vital component of health care and support other treatment measures with minimal negative aspects.” Says Pet Partners.

Emotional Wellbeing

Above all else, pet therapy brings joy and happiness to many elderly people, giving them something to look forward to. The excitement on their face when they know it’s that time of the week again is truly unmissable.

Therapy Pet reports: “Pet therapy builds on the animal-human bond. Interacting with a friendly animal can assist in alleviating numerous mental and physical issues. Not only does it help lower blood pressure and enhance general cardiovascular health but can also release endorphins that in turn produce a soothing effect. This can help lower stress, minimise pain, and improve one’s general psychological state.”

If you have a relative who is in care, pet therapy might be an option to consider. If you know someone who you think should be awarded NHS care home funding, then get in contact with our team today.

Author: Tim Davies LLB

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